We’re seated in the cozy Grunin Center auditorium this Thursday, November 9, 2017 evening looking forward to the Arlo Guthrie Re:Generation concert to begin — a show which features Arlo performing with the next generation of Guthrie musicians — his daughter, singer Sarah Lee, and his son, keyboardist Abe Guthrie.
As we wait for the show to begin, we chat with several members of the audience including Kathy and Jeff from Point Pleasant.
“We’ve seen Arlo Guthrie all over New Jersey and New York,” says Kathy, “but we missed him when he was here at the Grunin Center last year. As a result, we thought we ought to see him while he’s performing locally.”
Adds Jeff, “We saw the 40th and 50th Alice’s Restaurant tours, but tonight I’m looking forward to hearing some social commentary songs, in addition to some songs from Arlo’s father, Woody Guthrie.”
William from Beachwood notes, “One of my favorite songs of Arlo’s, of course, is ‘Alice’s Restaurant,’” acknowledging, “We even went to Stockbridge, Massachusettes one time and found the actual restaurant.”
William’s wife, Toni, reveals, “My daughter got tickets for me to this show for my birthday. I’ve never seen Arlo, but I’ve always listened to him, and I’ve always liked his dad’s songs.”
The lights dim as Arlo takes the stage with Sarah Lee on guitar, Abe on keyboards, and long-time Arlo band member, Terry “a la Berry” Hall, on drums.
As the crowd applauds, one happy audience member shouts out a hearty, “Yeah!”
“It’s a pleasure to be back here so soon,” says Arlo. “Tonight’s concert is something different because I’ll be performing with my daughter, Sarah Lee, and my son, Abe.”
Opening with Pete Seeger’s “Sailing Down My Golden River,” Sarah Lee sings, “Sunlight glancing on the water/Life and death are all my own/And I was never alone/Life to raise my sons and daughters/Golden sparkles in the foam/And I was not far from home.”
Arlo chimes in with a heartfelt harmonica solo.
As Sarah Lee picks up the mandolin, the quartet launches into a spirited rendition of Dave Van Ronk’s “Green Green Rocky Road,” and the group follows that up with a somber version of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Crash at Los Gatos).”
Relates Arlo, “This is a song my father wrote when I was one year old about a plane crash where deportees were killed. They were nameless, and my dad, Woody, wrote this song to give names to the people who died. Today, the names have all been searched on the internet and now there is a big stone with everyone’s name on it.”
Following avid applause, the quartet performs Arlo’s gorgeous folk ballad, “In Times Like These.”
As Arlo’s clear strong voice delivers his message, “In times like these when night surrounds me/And I am weary and my heart is worn/When the songs they’re singing don’t mean nothing/Just cheap refrains play on and on,” Abe sings harmony.
The next number features Sarah Lee on a song which she says is about “my travels on the road with my husband and my kids.” Entitled “Honey and the Do,” Sarah Lee sings — her voice sounding as sweet as sugar — as her feet keep time with a dancer’s step to this happy-go-lucky tune.
Revealing that when she was asked by Folkways Smithsonian to write a kids’ record a few years ago, Sarah Lee says, “I went into the archives and set my grandfather’s words to music.”
Performing the delightful number, “Go Waggaloo,” Sarah Lee teaches the entire Grunin Center audience the refrain, “Ha ha, go waggy waggy/Hey hey, go waggalo/Ha ha, go waggy waggy/Hee hee, go waggaloo.” The crowd joins in with gusto along with Sarah Lee, Abe, and Arlo, making everyone feel like a valued member of the Guthrie family.
Moving on to a lovely version of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind,” Sarah Lee’s bell-like voice rises above the guitars and keyboard until her father and brother join in singing harmony — this band of troubadours carrying on the family tradition of words and music with a message.
Following enthusiastic applause, Arlo tells a story about how — back in 1965 — he was studying forestry in Billings, Montana, disclosing, “but when I heard Bob Dylan’s songs on the radio, I was compelled to leave forestry and pursue music.”
Tipping his hat to Dylan, Arlo performs a dynamic rendition of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” in which he includes “all four verses — not just the two you hear on the radio.”
The crowd cheers for his performance, and Arlo follows it up with another Dylan song he says “was written years ago but is still pertinent now,” before performing a compelling version of “Blowing in the Wind,” ably accompanied by his children and the talented Terry “a la Berry” Hall on drums.
Arlo tells the audience, “My father had a collection of 78 records that I used to listen to as a kid — folk, opera, political speeches, classical — all kinds of different stuff including bluesman Big Bill Broonzy. But you can’t sing the blues when you’re thirteen — you have to get old and grouchy — and I’m getting there!”
At this point, he sings a soulful rendition of Broonzy’s “When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too),” the blues coming through Arlo’s solo vocals, guitar, and harmonica playing.
After telling a story about performing with Pete Seeger, Arlo and Sarah Lee share lead vocals on a number which Arlo and Seeger always opened their concerts with — “Midnight Special.” Sounding true and clear, the audience is impressed with the quartet’s performance and shows it with cheerful applause before the group takes a short intermission.
During the break, we chat with Ed from Toms River who says, “This is a phenomenal night! Arlo Guthrie is quite a showman — and his kids are so talented, too. Also, it’s great to have this concert right here in our own town.”
His friend, Bill from Toms River agrees, adding, “It’s great to have this caliber of musicianship in our own backyard.”
Likewise, Lisa from Tinton Falls calls the show, “Great,” noting, “It brings back a lot of memories for me. It’s so great to hear family music.” Her husband, Paul, exclaims, “I love it — it’s amazing!”
Wes from Brick admits, “I’ve been an Arlo fan for many years. His daughter, Sarah Lee, is very talented, too,” adding, “The Grunin Center is a great place to hear live music — I like small venues like this one, especially for folk music.”
Wes’ son, Adam, concurs acknowledging, “I like folk music, too. We saw Peter, Paul and Mary’s Peter Yarrow here last year and we’ll be seeing him again when he’s here this year,” exclaiming, “we even have front row seats!
Act II commences with the quartet performing Emmy Lou Harris’ folk-rocker “Goin’ Back to Harlan.” As Arlo’s guitar sings along with the vocals, Sarah Lee twists her foot to the rhythm creating her own original dance.
Sarah Lee is featured on a personal song about her mother, who passed away five years ago. Revealing, “The song doesn’t have a title — yet,” Sarah Lee performs this intimate composition which is about seeing a loved one everywhere once she or he is gone.
Abe sings harmony to Sarah Lee’s lead on “Circle of Souls,” the younger Guthrie generation blending as only siblings can on this pop/light rock ballad.
Revealing, “My father wrote the lyrics and Janis Ian put a tune to them,” Arlo performs a poignant selection entitled “Mother’s Voice” — its simple and pure melody and lyrics completely engaging the Grunin Center crowd.
The audience sighs with recognition as Arlo begins his famous “Motorcycle Song.” Singing “I don’t want a pickle/I just want to ride my motor-cicle,” the audience smiles and sings along.
Performing an instrumental number in the Hawaiian slat key guitar style, Arlo performs the beautiful and lilting, ”Haleiwa Farewell,” a rambling and rolling song which tells a story without any need for words.
Following up with the bittersweet and honest Phil Oaks’ composition, “When I’m Gone,” Sarah Lee performs a touching a cappella rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “I’ve Got to Know.”
One of the highlights of the evening is the Arlo Guthrie classic, “City of New Orleans.” With four-part vocal harmonies ringing out strong, the quartet joyously sings, “Good morning, America/How are ya?/Say don’t you know me? I’m your native son/I‘m the train they call the city of New Orleans/And I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.”
Another highlight is the Guthrie family’s rendition of Woody’s Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” the group’s bright and bouncy version leaving the audience on its feet cheering for this American classic.
Closing the concert with “My Peace” — a song featuring words by Woody Guthrie and music by Arlo Guthrie — Arlo teaches the audience the lyrics. Singing, “My peace, my peace, is all I’ve got that I can give to you/My peace is all I ever had, that’s all I ever knew,” the musicans on stage and the members of the audience create a unified community of peace.
Ending with “Go in peace. God bless you,” the audience rises, again cheering on its feet!
After the show, we make our way out of the auditorum and into the Grunin Center lobby where we meet Sarah Lee’s daughter, Sophie, age 10.
“I’m here to help with the merchandise,” explains Sophie.
As Arlo’s granddaughter and Woody Guthrie’s great-granddaughter, Sophie tells us, “My favorite song of my grandfather and great-grandfather’s is ‘Hobo’s Lullabye,’ but my favorite song my mom sings is ‘Big Moon’ from the Go Waggaloo album,” explaining, “because I’m on the record.”
Born with musical genes, Sophie tells us she plays “the flute, the ukulele, and the tiniest bit of piano” and, as a fifth grader, she also sings in the school chorus. In addition, she performs with the Guthrie family at certain shows — for example, “at Carnegie Hall, where,” as Sophie points out, “the Guthries do a show with the whole family.”
We also take a moment to chat with Sophie’s mom, Sarah Lee, who talks about her performance here at the Jersey Shore’s Grunin Center tonight revealing, “I can’t even count how many times I’ve played in NJ — from Cape May to Hoboken, to Cherry Hill, and Camden.”
Acknowledging, “I’m just a reflection of the room and the people in the room — I can feel everything,” Sarah Lee posits, “When you can be transparent, that’s the goal.” Adding, “There are rooms where you play which allow you to be completely open,” Sarah Lee concludes by suggesting, “and I feel that I was really able to connect with tonight’s audience.”
In the lobby, we also chat with several members of the audience, including Kathy and Jeff, whom we met before the concert.
Comments Jeff, “We are big Sarah Lee fans now!” as Kathy acknowledges, “I cried through the whole concert — or at least most of it,” explaining, “They were tears of joy!”
We additionally chat with Kathleen from Whiting who remarks, “Arlo Guthrie is just fabulous, and his whole family is so good!” before concluding, “It was one great show!”
For more on Arlo Guthrie, please go to www.arloguthrie.com. For more on Sarah Lee Guthrie, please click on facebook.com/sarahleeguthrie. To learn more about Abe Guthrie, please go to www.abeguthrie.com. For information on upcoming concerts at The Grunin Center — including John Gorka and Amelia K. Spicer on January 20, 2018; Sierra Hall on February 3, 2018; and Rickie Lee Jones on Mar. 22, 2018 — please click on www.grunincenter.org.
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